Study after study confirms the effectiveness of dandelion root extract producing apoptosis in vitro cancer cells – in effect, manipulating them to commit a programmed molecular suicide. However, there is not a single instance of this being confirmed in clinical trials involving human subjects.
In vitro is Latin and translates to “within the glass.” This research method isolates cancer cells in test tubes or uses test animals bred with selected traits, typically mice, to investigate a potential therapeutic compound. The test cells and treatment are thus unaffected by the biological dynamics of the human body: metabolism, side effects, patient safety, nutrition, dosage, pharmakinetics, efficacy, and other factors.
Dandelion root extract has been of interest for biomedical investigation for its high content of the antioxidants believed to be core to the body’s fighting damaging “free radical” cells and the key element in green tea health benefits. It is rich in nutritional compounds that researchers believed combine to make dandelion root a potential cancer fighter. It has a long use in traditional medicine, especially the thousands of years of recorded Chinese practice as a digestive aid.
Starting around 2010, lab experimentation generated striking evidence that dandelion root extract does indeed kill off cancer cells. The “tea” is simply a delivery vehicle for the dandelion root extract. Most of the work was pioneered by a team at the University of Windsor in Canada. It was reported in well-regarded academic journals and the researchers were enthusiastic about the possibilities it presents.
Here are examples of the in vitro findings:
Colon cancer cells: 95% apoptosis.
Pancreatis: cancer cells killed off with no impact on healthy cells.
Stomach cancer: reduction in cell growth.
Leukemia and melanoma: kills cancerous cells in laboratory mice.
These are obviously striking but just about every scientific paper on the topic carefully emphasizes that these are lab results and includes “in vitro” in any discussion or description. They earned the Windsor research center grants to extend its work to in vivo clinical trials: “within the body.” These are rigorously defined objectives, procedures and metrics in three formal stages for a compound to be accepted for Food and Drug Administration review as a new drug.
The Windsor team was funded for Stage I/II trials, with plans announced in 2012 for recruiting a test group of 30 patients. In 2015 these remained a plan. In 2017, the researchers expressed public concerns that their initial work had generated many false Internet claims about dandelion tea being a proven “anti-cancer powerhouse”.
By 2019, no clinical trial results have been reported. Research publications have dried up and the efficacy of dandelion tea has become part of “medicinal myth.” Just one of the many hundreds of claims of in vivo success based only on the in vitro findings is “Dandelion: The Plant 100 Times More Effective Than Chemotherapy.” There are scattered anecdotal examples of a single individual whose cancer suddenly disappeared: that may or may not be the case but there is no justification for leaping from the case to the lab findings to medical practice.
Snopes.com uses almost the same phrasing as the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a leading research institution “No firm scientific or medical evidence supports dandelion root as an effective treatment for cancer.” “Dandelion has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.”
The gap between the lab and the human patient tests is in no way unusual. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America summarize the development path to produce one new registered drug:
Discovery: 5-10,000 compounds that show potential for study
Preclinical research (The dandelion root extract lab studies): 250 successes
Clinical trials: 5 successes
FDA review: 1 approval.
An example of the many factors that turn a lab positive into a clinical trial failure is the finding that while dandelion root extract kills off breast cancer cells in the test tube, in the body it may increase their growth because they are hormone-sensitive and affected by estrogen activity. Dandelion tea is known to increase urination and decrease blood sugar levels. None of these show up in the lab test tube.
SOURCES: Google Scholar abstracts, journal articles and research citations, Snopes, University of Windsor, Sloan-Kettering web site